Across the Wide Missouri (1951)

The action, the drama, the men, the women... who blasted their heroic way into a new empire!

In the 1830's beaver trapper Flint Mitchell and other white men hunt and trap in the then unnamed territories of Montana and Idaho. Flint marries a Blackfoot woman as a way to gain entrance into her people's rich lands, but finds she means more to him than a ticket to good beaver habitat.

Trees lie where they fall, and men were buried where they died.
One of the most frustrating things in cinema is that of the interfering studio. Too many films, since cinema became the medium so massively loved by so many, have fallen victim to this most poisonous fly in the cinematic ointment. One such film to suffer greatly is the William A. Welman directed Western, Across The Wide Missouri. All the elements were in place, a fine story written by Talbot Jennings & Frank Cavett, which is worked from Bernard DeVoto's historical study of the American fur trade in the 1830s. Wellman (The Call Of The Wild/Beau Geste/Battleground) at the helm, Hollywood's golden boy Clark Gable in the lead, and a sumptuous location shoot around the San Juan Mountains to be photographed by William Mellor. With all the talk coming out of MGM that they wanted to make an "epic" picture, hopes were high for the early 1950s to have a Western classic on its hands. Enter studio boss Dore Schary who promptly cut the piece to ribbons. So much so that the film, where once it was epic, is now a choppy and episodic 78 minute experience. With a narration by Howard Keel tacked on by Schary just so we can try to make sense of what is (has) gone on. Wellman was rightly miffed and tried to get his name taken off the credits.
Amazingly, what remains is still a recommended piece of film for the discerning Western fan. The locations are just breath taking, expertly shot in Technicolor by Mellor, at times rugged and biting, at others simply looking like God's garden. This part of the world is the perfect back drop for the story as the white man's greed brings them into conflict with the Native Americans. The film also boasts an array of interesting characters, we got the Scots and the French represented alongside the usual suspects, while the tracking and fighting sequences are expertly filmed by the astute Wellman. It was a tough shoot all told as well. Ricardo Montalban {Blackfoot Indian Ironshirt} was involved in a horse riding accident, the consequence of which would severely affect him later in his life, while stunt man Fred Kennedy suffered a broken neck when his intentional fall from a horse did not go as planned. The horses too you can see really earned their oats, trekking up hill across sharp jagged rocks and ploughing through snow drifts, magnificent beasts they be. Joining Gable and Montalban in the cast are John Hodiak, James Whitmore, María Elena Marqués, Adolphe Menjou and Alan Napier. David Raskin provides a suitably at one with the atmosphere score. With Gable on form mixing with the high points that Schary left alone, Across The Wide Missouri is more than just a time filler. But the problems do exist and it's impossible not to be affected by the annoyance that comes with the old "what might have been" that gnaws away at the viewer at every other turn. 6/10

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by William A. Wellman, Talbot Jennings, Frank Cavett, Bernard DeVoto.
Stars: Clark Gable, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, Adolphe Menjou.

Genres: Adventure, Romance, Western

Keywords: montana fur trapping

10/21/1951

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